Foreign Workers: Public, Private Sectors Bear Heavy Responsibility to Create Inclusive Society

As labor shortages become increasingly serious in many industries, foreign nationals are becoming a valuable part of the labor force. The public and private sectors should work together to create an environment in which foreign nationals can work comfortably.

In April, strict caps will be placed on overtime work for such occupations as truck driving, and there are concerns about the impact on logistics and other fields of business. The forestry industry is also losing workers, and forests are not being thoroughly managed.

To address such problems, the government has decided to add four new fields — road transport, railways, forestry and the timber industry — to the specified skilled worker residence status, bringing the total to 16 fields.

This means that foreign nationals will soon be working as bus, taxi and truck drivers, as well as train station staff.

To cope with the harsh reality of a declining population, it is inevitable that employment opportunities for foreigners be expanded.

The government plans to require higher level Japanese language exams for bus and cab drivers, train conductors and train station staff than for other fields.

Drivers and others who interact with passengers must respond to such emergencies as accidents and machine failure. It is only natural that they should be required to have sufficient Japanese language skills to communicate with others.

Companies that hire foreign nationals must thoroughly ensure safety by, for example, expanding training in traffic rules and driving techniques.

The specified skilled worker program was launched in 2019 as a system for accepting foreigners with certain skills in fields where there is a notable labor shortage. As of the end of last year, 200,000 foreign nationals were working in the program. The system is taking root as a way for companies to hire foreigners on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to abolish its technical internship program, which was ostensibly set up to help developing countries and has been criticized as violating human rights. In that program’s place, it intends to create a “training and employment” program, which will allow foreign nationals to change jobs as they like.

From now on, it is important to ensure that foreign nationals who enter Japan under the training and employment program can smoothly transition to the specified skilled worker status.

If companies view foreign nationals as cheap labor regardless of their residence status, they will not be able to acquire talented staff. We hope that efforts will be made to improve working conditions for foreigners and expand their welfare benefits.

The government reportedly plans to accept up to 820,000 foreign nationals as specified skilled workers over a five-year period beginning in fiscal 2024.

The question now will be how to promote coexistence with foreign nationals in Japan. Currently, there have been many cases of foreign workers becoming isolated or committing crimes because they cannot integrate into Japanese society.

The central government, local governments and companies should inform foreign workers of the rules that need to be followed to live in Japan and increase opportunities for Japanese language education.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 31, 2024)